I’m feeling a bit reflective this week as we are re-launching our women’s friendship community, GirlFriendCircles.com, after our initial opening nearly 8 years ago.
In a few ways now feels very similar to then as every new beginning is fueled with both a sense of calling that change is needed and a slight vulnerability as one puts a new offering into the world.
And it’s also got me thinking about how culture has changed in regards to our friendships during that same amount of time.
I’ve seen some big shifts in the world of friendship since 2008:
Increase in Research and Studies: I wish I had actual numbers to offer up here as proof, but what I can say is that back then it was easy to read everything that was being published (or had been) on friendship, and now it seems like there is a new study every time I turn around! (Which I love, obviously!) Facebook and social media sites have helped heighten the interest in exploring friendship and social interaction (whereas our romantic and parenting relationships seemed to take precedence before), as well as giving researchers an easier pool of people to study.
Renewed Desire on Quality, Not Quantity: With the rise of social media, we ran headlong into a greater number of connections than most of us had ever attempted to manage. And as time wore on, we started hearing more expressed hunger for deeper connections, not just more of them. Social media has adjusted by giving us “groups” and creating algorithms to highlight the people we know, more than ones we don’t. We got what we wanted: connection to everyone; and then realized we were full, but not fulfilled.
Creeping Awareness to our Loneliness: The stereotype of loneliness used to be someone who was isolated, reclusive, and lacked social skills; but the loneliest people today are those who seemingly know everyone, are too busy to go deep, and are talking to people all day so they lack the energy to really connect with a few. My own studies show repeatedly that our loneliness isn’t due to not knowing enough people as much as it’s because we don’t feel known by a select few. We are slowly admitting that we’re lonely even though we aren’t alone.
More Openness to Online Friendship Sites: Remember back in the day when people would feel shame and lie about meeting a romantic partner online and how now it’s commonplace? It’ll be no surprise then that the same path is happening with friendship. I won’t go so far as to say that there aren’t people who fear meeting friends online, but now members, like those who join GirlFriendCircles.com are much more likely to share their involvement on social media without feeling like they need to hide it!
Growing Media Interest in our Friendships: When I started in 2008, the most common response from TV producers and magazine editors was something along the lines of, “Oh we covered friendship in a piece last year” as though that were all that was needed for another year or two! Ha! (And yet they think we need to learn how to “lose 5 lbs” every single month!) But I have been so encouraged by the growing number of books, segments, and articles on friendships in recent years! The New York Times alone has published countless op-ed pieces calling out our loneliness! And one major national magazine, in an interview with me in May, said “We have decided to cover friendships more than romance this year!” That, my friends, is progress!
An Inflation in Bad Advice: With the increase in interest and heightened awareness of our lack of depth comes an escalation of bad advice from people who respond more to our fear than to our growth. If I had a penny every time I see “advice” telling people some version of “get rid of your toxic friends” then I’d be rich! The truth is that it’s less about who is toxic and who isn’t (research shows that 86% of us claim to have a toxic friend so that would imply that we’re all friends with the same 14% of toxic people or that some of us are considered toxic to someone else!) and more about how to teach people how to create healthier friendships. In other words, if someone does something we don’t like (which is 100% likely in every relationship at some point!) let’s learn how to communicate that and develop greater trust in each other than to simply drift apart, while righteously patting ourselves on the back for being so much better than everyone else.
An Uptick in the Desire to Learn About Friendship: Book publishers have long known that women will buy any book that promises love and good sex, and will buy up every parenting book when they are pregnant; but that far and few between are the women who walk into a bookstore thinking they need to learn about friendship. And I can’t say this has changed drastically, but I have seen far more willingness by women to come to my workshops, pay for classes, and share my book with their friends. I am encouraged that with the realization that they don’t have the close friends they want, more women are willing to start doing something about it. We’ve long assumed, wrongly, that we should just know how to do friendship, but I’m witnessing entire audiences walking away in awe of what they didn’t even know they didn’t know. We are willing to pay to learn in every other area of life (i.e. how to lose weight, how to do social media, how to look stylish) and I’m seeing more women choose to learn over the alternative of staying lonely.
May these trends continue to increase, and more importantly, may your life reflect your awareness of your need and your willingness to learn how to create more meaningful friendships!
What have you noticed and observed in your friendships and in those around you?